Today Bjarke Ingels Group officially unveiled a new project: Cross # Tower, a 280,000 square foot residential development in the Yongsan International Business District of Seoul.
The project tackles a nascent typology that’s been attempted (with varying degrees of success and failure) often over the past five years: the “rhizome,” a stand of high-rise towers that connect to each other at different heights.
Like most BIG projects, the formal strategy at play here is shown in a set of simple diagrams. They begin by chopping off the top halves of the two towers and end with connecting the missing pieces to form a “#” symbol in three dimensions. A broad swath of garden fills the ground-level podium, and each of the connecting arms of the complex hosts a community space and green roof.
The idea, says BIG partner Thomas Christoffersen, is to reclaim a sense of community lost in typical residential towers, where “awkward elevator rides” are the primary social interactions shared by residents. By tripling the amount of social space within the tower, BIG “triples the amount of social interaction and reintroduces the idea of neighborhood within the tower complex.” Conflating green space with social space makes a lot of sense for BIG, whose mantra of “Hedonistic Sustainability” says green can also be luxurious, fun, and radical.
The # Tower is a fairly neutral proposal, one that won’t inspire a fraction of the controversy generated by a similar set of towers proposed in the same district of Seoul last year–MVRDV’s The Cloud, which many (incorrectly) believed to represent the Twin Towers being attacked. It’s notable that both towers were generated in diagram form, and in this sense, were both designed to be easily digestible by clients and media alike.
But here’s the thing about easily digestible architecture: it functions like a knock-knock joke. There’s a set up (the diagrams) and a punchline (the renderings), we laugh, and then we move on. The Cross # Tower is a beautiful proposal and the diagrams are elegantly simple. But now that diagrammatic architecture has become more common, it’s worth asking whether diagrams are an intelligent basis for design, or simply just a clever one.